Summer 2005, I went to Gion Festival 祇園祭り in Kyoto.
Gion is one of the largest festivals held in Kansai. It is one of the three largest and most important festivals in Japan. Normally held in July, it is a treasured annual event that completely consumes all activity in downtown Kyoto.
Some Japanese phrases to describe Gion Matsuri could be…
人だらけ。 “hito darake” “nothing but freakin people everywhere” 満員電車状態。 “manindensha jyoutai” “freakin’ like a rush-hour train” めっちゃ暑いねん。”meccya atsuinen” “It’s freakin’ hot”
I joke, it’s an amazing experience and if possible, I would recommend everyone at try to attend once if you can manage.
Giant two-story, two-ton floats carrying dozens of people in festival wear are wheeled around the streets — manually dragged by what must be 40 men. At one of the most exciting moments of the festival they heave the float to turn their fixed-axel heavy wooden wheels across the pavement. It is truly a sight to see!
They even float by McDonalds… For an… Ice Cream Float. [joke.]
Looking for some wholesome fun in Japan? See if you can locate a kiddy fishing place in your area — they’re called tsuribori 釣り堀 in Japanese. Not actually fishing koi — they’re goldfish.
This activity is family oriented. You’ll pay a fee to be able to fish for a set amount of time and you’ll be given a simple fishing rod and some bait.
The bait is made out of gluten. You pinch some off, roll it into a ball, and stick it on your hook. You’ll have a bucket with water inside next to you where you put the fish you have caught. At the end of your time staff will come by, count your fish, and likely ask you to select a cheap carnival prize as a gift. The fish are returned to the tank to be fished up again by an eager kiddo or his parents.
The environment is wholesome and fun, as customers will cheer each other on and it’s generally a good time.
The same shops often sell koi as their main business. In Japan you’ll often see beautiful koi in Japanese gardens. These fish can cost anywhere from 1000 yen (about $10) USD to $10,000 USD per fish! Koi can easily live 25-35 years (the oldest lived 226 years!) so raising them is a professional business.
If you’re in Japan with random time to burn, give tsuribori a shot! Might be fun!